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Iraq on edge after deadly raid on protest camp

BAGHDAD -- Security forces stormed a Sunni protest camp in northern Iraq on Tuesday, sparking deadly clashes in several towns and sharply intensifying rage at the Shia-led government. The unrest and a spate of other attacks, mostly targeting Sunni mosques, killed at least 56 people.

The violence could mark an ominous turning point in the four-month Sunni protest movement, which is posing a stubborn challenge to Iraq's stability a decade after the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks on three Sunni mosques, and it was unclear if there was any connection to the storming of the protest camp. Sunni extremists such as al-Qaida have in the past targeted moderate Sunnis.

But if Shia militias were behind the attacks, it would raise fears of a return to the open sectarian fighting of 2006 and 2007 when Iraq was on the brink of civil war.

The raid on the protest camp drew harsh condemnations from Sunni leaders and foreign diplomats, and raised fears that Iraq is being pushed back toward all-out sectarian fighting like that fueling civil war in neighboring Syria.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki swiftly announced the formation of a special ministerial committee to investigate. The move underscores worries that anger over the incident could spill out of control.

-- AP

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